Iremember the last time India came to Pakistan, there was talk about the series being a match-up between their batsmen and our bowlers. Not much has changed since. This time too, the Indians have very talented batsmen—and the line-up is more special because it doesn't rely on just one or two players. In the early '80s, the Indians depended heavily on Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Vishwanath, in the mid-'80s, it was Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar, and in the late '80s Ravi Shastri, Sanjay Manjrekar were solid players.
This time around, captain Saurav Ganguly has 5-6 very talented batsmen who are very high on confidence. Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly have already proved themselves, but with the emergence of V.V.S. Laxman and Virender Sehwag the batting would look threatening on any surface. Laxman is a player I enjoy watching and his strokeplay in Australia was absolutely magnificent. He has the ability to turn a game around, which makes him a very dangerous customer for us. In the one-dayers, I also rate Yuvraj Singh as a special talent.
The Indian bowling though is a little inexperienced at present. Their strike bowler Irfan Pathan is young and talented but, no offence, I think there are many bowlers in Pakistan of equal talent who wouldn't get a chance at this level. In my book, a good bowling line-up is one that goes out to defend a total of 400 and gets the opposition out twice for within or around that total. A bowling line-up that allows the opposition to almost touch 500 while defending 700 certainly has problems. The inability to convert a mammoth total to a winning one suggests the bowling is not clicking. In Sydney, India had their best line-up in action, but in Pakistan they'll be without experienced campaigners Anil Kumble and Zaheer Khan, so Ganguly has his work cut out.
As far as our team is concerned, the batting is not as experienced. The structure of cricket at the grassroots in Pakistan isn't as strong as when I was young. Players come up the ranks without the technique required for this level. The inconsistency means the batting line-up has been a bit of a revolving door with exits and entries galore. However, we did reasonably well in New Zealand, and the experienced Yousuf Youhana and Inzamam-ul-Haq just need a couple of players to play around them to get to a formidable total. Our biggest weapons are Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami, and even though the Tests will be played in summer, I think they have the firepower to beat the heat and challenge of India's formidable batting. Both of them are at the camp at present, and are looking fit and fast.
Our win in New Zealand or India's batting in Australia will have no relevance to this series. The problem is any series between India and Pakistan is hyped because of the infrequency of the encounters. I hope there will be more frequent exchanges now so that the quality of cricket in both countries improves. I always enjoyed playing against India, and in my days there were no match referees and codes of conduct, so the conversation used to be pretty 'interesting' on the field. Off the field, however, we were always warm and friendly with each other.
This series reminds me of our India tour of '99, when we thought we would face protests but were instead warmly welcomed wherever we went. Even when there has been a bit of crowd disturbance, we have always wanted cricket to go on, be it in Ahmedabad in '87 or in Calcutta in '99. We hope the Indian team will be as mature if such issues crop up in Pakistan.Both teams must remember that while winning is top priority, we're also involved in building bridges and making friends through this series.
Starting this week, Pakistan's coach covers the Indo-Pak series exclusively for Outlook
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